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Environmental Groups: ‘No Doubt’ a Trump Win Would Undo Conservation Victories

President Joe Biden's White House has enacted many conservation wins for the American wilderness. But environmentalists say none of them are safe from reversal.

boundary waters canoe minnesotaMinnesota's Boundary Waters wilderness was recently saved from mining by President Joe Biden — but that could change; (photo/Shutterstock)
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In just the first few months of 2024, President Joe Biden’s administration has been responsible for several conservation wins.

Biden saved Minnesota’s Boundary Waters wilderness from planned mining operations in January. In April, the president’s Department of the Interior protected millions of acres of the Alaskan arctic from oil drilling. About the same time, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a new rule elevating the political power of conservation on all public land.

This week, many House Republicans made it clear they want to throw out those changes. They filed several bills aimed at reversing these federal decisions, including The WEST Act, which would overturn the BLM Public Land Rule. It passed on Tuesday with a House vote of 212 to 202.

As a result, environmental groups are calling on Americans who support wilderness conservation to contact their representatives. It’s highly unlikely that the Senate — much less Biden himself — will allow the House bills to become law.

But that could change in just a few months.

The conservation victories aren’t likely to survive a second term of Donald Trump, environmental groups said.

“There should be no doubt that a future Trump administration would try and undo these conservation wins that we have applauded so loudly as hunters and anglers,” said Kaden McArthur, government relations manager for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “They can be taken away just as easily.” 

cowboy cattle Utah
Many state lawmakers fear the loss of land uses like cattle ranching, seen here in Hatch, Utah; (photo/Shutterstock)

State Lawmakers Push Back

McArthur called the BLM Public Land Rule approved in April a “critical step forward” for land management. Basically, the policy change means that federal officials can now treat conservation as equally valuable as other land uses, like drilling or ranching.

Many state lawmakers, however, want to preserve local control and business interests.

That’s why Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) introduced the WEST Act to reverse the rule change. The BLM rule only “favors wealthy individuals and environmental groups,” he said in a press release.

Instead, Utah land must remain open to ranching, resource development, mining, and timber harvesting, according to Curtis and his supporters.

Similar accusations of federal overreach came from Alaska officials furious over the Biden administration’s added protections for 13 million acres of arctic wilderness. The White House announced the land would remain available for subsistence uses and the needs for Alaska Native communities, in addition to a moratorium on new oil and gas leases in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.

That led Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) to introduce the Alaska’s Right to Produce Act. The bill — also passed by the House this week — would reinstate oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Stauber not only attacked Biden for limits on Alaska drilling, but also for preventing a proposed mining operation in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.

“From Minnesota to Alaska, President Biden has repeatedly prevented the responsible production of America’s abundance of natural resources,” Stauber said in a statement.

Caribou herds have begun to dwindle in size, making Alaskan conservation more urgent, environmentalists said; (photo/Shutterstock)

Environmental Groups Fear Impact of Trump Win

It’s not surprising that environmental groups are worried that Donald Trump retaking the White House would undo all their recent victories.

During his first term, Trump approved drilling and mining in both the Alaskan arctic and Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. Biden’s actions in those states were reinstating goals set by President Barack Obama that were later undone by Trump.

The Trump 2024 campaign did not respond to requests for comment. But environmental leaders feel confident they know what will happen to their conservation wins if he wins the presidential election in November.

“While we hope we can continue to forge common sense approaches to managing public lands, we’re also clear-eyed that these rules — which challenge the status quo of how we’ve traditionally managed public lands for resource extraction — will likely face increased opposition if the administration changes hands,” Felice Stadler, National Audubon Society’s vice president of government affairs, said in a news release. “Especially if Trump term one is a premonition of things to come.”

The uncertainty about the new rules’ lifespan is exactly why Americans need to start speaking up, said Christina Hazard, legislative director for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). Just because these House bills won’t pass this year doesn’t mean they won’t come back next year, she said.

But if federal officials implement the conservation rules quickly, that could “change hearts and minds” of the American public, making it harder to reverse course, Hazard said. She also asked Americans to do more than support recent victories for public land: Tell Congress to boost funding for the National Park Service.

Between 2012 and 2022, the Park Service lost 13% of its staff, but saw a 10% increase in visitation. Whether it’s saving the distant Alaskan wilderness — or simply keeping your nearest National Park free of trash — America needs to do more for its public lands, Hazard said.

“If we don’t speak up, it’s easier for anyone in the future to walk these changes back,” she said.  

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